Every single word, every phrase, every sentence I write in this review no matter how positive or praiseworthy, does not do this restaurant justice. On very few occasions in a food reviewer’s life, everything lines up perfectly. Superb food, flawless service, beautiful atmosphere, all these aspects of the meal together in a glorious harmony. Complete and utter perfection in all senses of the word. It may seem odd to an outsider to see complete strangers hugging the owner and chef after finishing the meal, but once you enter into Enoteca Umberto and become immersed in this little pocket of food paradise you will finally be able to understand what makes this place so special.
This past weekend, my Father and I went up to Providence, Rhode Island for a food trip like no other. One of the highlights of the trip (and quite possibly the best restaurant I have ever been to), was Enoteca Umberto on Federal Hill in Providence (256 Atwells Avenue, 401-272-8466). Enoteca Umberto is quite small and is tucked delicately amongst the world renowned Italian section of Providence Rhode Island.
Enoteca Umberto was started by Umberto Bellini and is run by him and his wife Lia (who is the mastermind cook of the family). Lia is a graduate from Johnson and Wales, the culinary school in Providence and as a result is able to put her own twist on these typical strongholds of Southern Italian Cuisine. They use only the freshest, simplest, purest ingredients mostly from the Southern sector of Italy. The restaurant is truly tiny, with half of the limited space designated as the “kitchen.” The kitchen is pretty much made up of two induction burners, a bar, and a small preparation area, but when you see what delectable creations make their way to your table, it will seem as though they had been created in a massive kitchen.With only 18 seats in the whole establishment, I would recommend getting a reservation at least two weeks in advance.
When I entered the dimly lit, welcoming atmosphere of Enoteca Umberto I knew I was in for a treat. From the speakers blasting delightful Italian music, to the sweet, almost musical sound of Umberto’s voice welcoming us; the clatter of pots, pans, and plates in the kitchen, it all melded together like a tantalizing symphony to my ears. As soon as we made our way to our seats, Umberto greeted us with a massive smile on his face. He seemed genuinely happy to have us dining at his restaurant, and that pure happiness was contagious. We exchanged pleasantries, and before we knew it, it was if we were part of his family. We spoke to him about the reason for the trip and truly bonded over our mutual love of food. What sets Enoteca Umberto apart is the personal bonds the owners of the restaurant are able to form with their customers. Once the bond is set, the whole eating experience becomes so much more enjoyable.
To begin the meal, my father inquired to Umberto regarding the wine selection. Recognizing the importance of having a wine that would compliment the food , he went off the menu and suggested a wine from Southern Italy that was one of his personal favorites. Umberto actually split the bottle with my father, to enforce even further that absolutely wonderful personal experience at Enoteca Umberto.
The menu is small at Enoteca Umberto, but each item served is delicious and the ingredients they use are all pure. After working our way through the menu, and hearing all the options (described in depth by Umberto), we created our order. We ordered, a Buffalo Mozzarella with homemade pickled onions and citrus fruits, a simple Arugula Salad with lemon, parmesan, olive oil and salt, bruschetta with gorgonzola cheese, prosciutto, sun-dried figs, and locally sourced New England honey, and two pastas (a pomodoro and a special pork pasta).
The Buffalo Mozzarella was impeccable. They get their Mozzarella from Umberto’s cousin’s farm in Naples and as a result it is always fresh. The firm exterior of the Buffalo Mozzarella gave way to a velvety, creamy interior. The cheese was moist and tender and the addition of the vividly colored pickled onions and tart orange/grapefruit slices were the perfect thing to cut through the mildness of the Buffalo Mozzarella. The hulking cheese ball was finished with a silky drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt for taste.
The Arugula Salad was simple and utterly delicious. The peppery bundle of airy arugula was served with a tart lemony vinaigrette, a light showering of olive oil, thin, paper-like shavings of oaky parmesan cheese, and a dusting of salt to round out the perfect salad. This dish seems so straightforward and elementary, but the taste was unlike any salad I have ever ingested.
While many think the traditional bruschetta to be the typical toasted bread with salty, garlicky crumbled tomatoes, Enoteca Umberto brings the dish totally outside the box. The bruschetta we ordered was made up of a base of flakey, crusty toasted bread, a thick schmear of pungent, sweet gorgonzola cheese, elegant flowers of tender, salty prosciutto, sliced sun-dried bulbs of heavenly, sumptuous figs, and a substantial helping of New England honey. The reason I knew this dish was good, is that I am typically not a fan of gorgonzola cheese and figs, but in this case, I could have eaten them for days.
Being famous for their marvelous Pasta Pomodoro, I knew I had to give it a try. Pasta Pomodoro is pretty much pasta with tomato sauce, olive oil or butter (in this case melted mascarpone cheese), and herbs. It sounds like it couldn’t get any simpler, but it is actually a hard dish to perfect. The Pasta Pomodoro at Enoteca Umberto is as close to perfect as you’re going to get. The base of the dish is made up of tender, delicate pasta, slathered in a dense, rich tomato sauce, containing the ideal amount of sauce. This base is then mixed in with decadent, butter-like mascarpone cheese (as a substitute for oil), which truly adds another level of flavor to the dish. The pasta was finished off with a hefty helping of crumbled parmesan cheese, you really can’t get much better than that.
Lastly, we ordered the special pasta they were offering that night. The firm, yet exquisite homemade pasta was served with a stunning rosemary infused, oil-based sauce, tender, salty pork, a crisp, ring of pan fried pancetta, and a dusting of parmesan cheese and crushed pine nuts. I really don’t regard myself as a pasta-lover by any stretch, but I seriously could eat this dish morning, noon, and night for the rest of my life.
After perhaps one of the best meals of my entire life, we were blessed to spend our remaining time at the restaurant sitting with both Umberto and his Uncle Ralph (who was visiting from Florida). These two wonderful men regaled us with tales from their lives, gave us keen advice for how to properly enjoy yourself, treated us like part of the family, and bonded with us over our shared love of food.
I really can’t put into words how special my experience was at this restaurant, but if I had to characterize it with one word it would be: perfection. A couple sitting next to us actually got engaged during dinner, that I think is the ultimate testament to what kind of place it is. To be honest with you, I think my meal at Enoteca Umberto could have possibly been the best I have ever eaten.
I would recommend it to everyone on the planet if I could. Shout it from the mountain tops and send the world a mass text or email to go there, but sadly I can’t. I would give it ZZZZZ – 5 Z’s – Unheard of!